Inside The Assassination Attempts Against Barack Obama

The death threats against President Barack Obama started early and often in his presidential career — arguably more than any other president in history — even before his first 2008 presidential primary, per The New York Times. Most plots never made it past the planning phase, either because of swift action on the part of the Secret Service and other authorities, or simple stupidity on the part of the plotters. And disgustingly so, many would-be assassins not only targeted the former president because of his skin color but made no attempt to even mask their motivations.

The assassins started queueing up almost immediately after Obama — then a junior senator from Illinois — announced his intention to run for the highest office in the land. He was the target of so much early animosity, in fact, that his campaign hired a private security detail for him even before he'd been nominated as the Democratic candidate. At that point, campaign aides declined to discuss any specifics about the decision. 

According to The New York Times, Homeland Security similarly refused to talk about "the timing or the details" of the security detail appointment, as their department has to authorize any such decisions. For her part, Michelle Obama said, "Security was one of many issues that I have and will have in the course of this campaign," continuing, "But I've thought through in my mind all the possible scenarios and how we're going to handle it."

Foiled pre-nomination threats

One early plotter was Jerry M. Blanchard, an accountant who talked about assassinating Obama in a Waffle House in Charlotte, North Carolina on July 15, 2008, four weeks before Obama's Democratic National Convention (DNC) presidential nomination. As the book "Famous Assassinations in World History" recounts, he said, "Obama and his wife are never going to make it to the White house. He needs to be taken out and I can do it in a heartbeat," and later added, "I'll get a sniper rifle and take care of it myself. Somebody's got to do it. We both know Obama is the anti-Christ." He received 366 days in prison, three years probation, and was permanently stripped of his accountant's license.  

Shortly after Blanchard, Raymond H. Geisel called Obama the "n" word on July 31, 2008, while in class to become a bail bondsman. "If he gets elected, I'll assassinate him myself," "Famous Assassinations in World History" quotes him as saying. The police found body armor, a 9-mm handgun, four loaded magazines, ammunition, and a hatchet in his hotel room. He said he was joking and served three years probation. 

After this, three self-confessed white supremacists — Tharin Gartrell and Shawn Robert Adolf, and Nathan Johnson — were arrested by the Denver Police Department after driving a truck "full of weapons and meth" to Obama's DNC nomination with the intent to kill the future president. As the Independent quotes the aptly-named Adolf, "No n***** should ever live in the White House."

A white supremacist, a marine, and a stalker

In October 2008, about two months after Barack Obama became the official Democratic nominee for president, police arrested 19-year-old Paul Schlesselman of Arkansas and 21-year-old Daniel Cowart of Tennessee for plotting his assassination. CBS News has all the deplorable details, including a picture of Cowart very proudly brandishing an automatic weapon with a swastika tattoo on his right arm. He and Schlesselman were self-described white supremacists apprehended while driving a truck that had "Honk if you love Hitler" written on the hood. They'd planned a cross-country murder spree of 102 Black Americans that was to end in Obama's death.

Later in 2008, Marine Lance Corporal Kody Brittingham was arrested for armed robbery. Police found a journal in his barracks containing white supremacist material, a written plan regarding how to kill Obama, and Google searches for "Inauguration Day." He received a 100-month prison sentence (per the Justice Department).

Finally, Kristy Lee Roshia threatened to "blow away the whole Oval Office," as the Honolulu Advertiser says. She sent "rambling love letters" full of pictures of herself to the Boston Secret Service office in 2009 and followed those up with phone calls to the office saying, "I will kill Michelle Obama," and, "I will kill marines." She also apparently traveled to Hawaii "to protect" the Obamas, as her affidavit says, and discovered the exact spot where the family intended to vacation in Honolulu. As reported by the Lowell Sun, she was arrested just two miles from the spot.

Death by the pen and/or the sword

Early on in his presidency, Barack Obama was targeted by two more assassination attempts: one fairly non-threatening but potentially dangerous, and the other a unique international case that U.S. officials took "very seriously" at the time, as CNN states.

The Sydney Morning Herald tells us that Johnny Logan Spencer came to the attention of the Secret Service after posting a racist poem titled "The Sniper" on the white supremacist website New Saxon first in 2007, and then again in 2009. The poem vividly describes President Obama's murder via a sniper rifle. Even though Spencer claimed he wrote the poem to process his mother's death, he was given a 33-month prison sentence. 

The other early assassination plot happened not on American soil but during Obama's first international trip as president in 2009. As part of a European tour, he attended the Alliance of Civilizations Summit in Istanbul, where a Syrian man was arrested for carrying fake Al-Jazeera press credentials. The man confessed that he and three accomplices had cooked up a plot to stab Obama with a knife. The arrest occurred in conjunction with local authorities, although the Secret Service went above and beyond in this case and conducted "extensive searches" of journalists involved with Obama's tour. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said of the case, "We work closely with the host country whenever there is an arrest, which we are doing in this matter."

High-profile assassination attempts

A more high-profile assassination attempt on Barack Obama's life came in November 2011, when Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez sprayed semi-automatic fire at the White House. As The Washington Post says, he referred to Obama by the familiar assassin's epithet, "the anti-Christ." He also told people that he "needed to kill" the president. In a 20-minute-long video, Ortega-Hernandez said, "It's not just a coincidence that I look like Jesus. I am the modern-day Jesus Christ that you all have been waiting for," and, "Our government is just a group of people no greater than us ... the only thing is that our government has had power for so long that it has led us to bully other countries." As The New York Times states, he was arrested for planning to assassinate the president and on 16 separate firearms and assault charges. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The following year, four U.S. Army soldiers were arrested for murder: Private Isaac Aguigui, Private First Class Michael Burnett, Sergeant Anthony Peden, and Private Christopher Salmon. As The Daily Beast says, the arrest led to the discovery that they were part of the paramilitary anarchist organization FEAR, which stands for "Forever Enduring, Always Ready." Their plot involved overthrowing the government, blowing up vehicles belonging to political leaders, bombing a fountain in Savannah, Georgia, poisoning a crop of apples in Washington state — and assassinating the president. Burnett eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to eight years in 2016, and he also handed over his co-conspirators to authorities, each of whom received a life sentence (per Southern Poverty Law Center).

The bungled and the amateurish

The next contenders on the "I want to kill Barack Obama" list are a bit absurd. In March 2010, Brian Dean Miller posted a brilliantly self-incriminating entry titled "Obama Must Die" on Craigslist (via the Dallas Observer). He wrote (per CBS News), "People, the time has come for revolution. It is time for Obama to die. I am dedicating my life to the death of Obama and every employee of the federal government. As I promised in a previous post, if the health care reform bill passed I would become a terrorist. Today I become a terrorist." Needless to say, Miller was arrested and given 27 months in prison without parole.

Next up is Mitchell Kusick, who was arrested in October 2012 after telling his therapist that he wanted to kill the president and also shoot children at a nearby school (per KDVR). As CBS News explains, he was preoccupied with two big red flags: snipers and Columbine. He served nine months in prison.

Finally, in 2013, two men from upstate New York were arrested for building what they called a "death ray," or "Hiroshima on a light switch." As Stuff cites, they planned on deploying their X-ray-shooting weapon on a mosque in Albany and a Muslim school in Colonie before turning it on President Obama. The leader of the two, Glendon Scott Crawford, was a self-professed KKK member, and he was ultimately sentenced to 30 years. The other perpetrator, Eric J. Feight, received 97 months in prison on a variety of charges.

Multiple ricin plots

And so we come to twin plots better suited to "Breaking Bad" episodes: ricin in envelopes. Ricin, for the uninitiated, is a poisonous substance produced by the processing of castor beans that is fatal if inhaled, ingested, or injected. In 2014, actress Shannon Richardson — who had minor roles in "The Vampire Diaries" and "The Walking Dead" — was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sending a ricin-filled letter to Barack Obama (via Politico). She also sent a letter to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg because he advocated stricter gun control, and Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Additionally, she sent the letters in her husband's name in an attempt to frame him, as they were going through a divorce at the time. During her trial, Richardson said, "I'm not a bad person. I don't have it in me to hurt anyone."

That same year, James Everett Dutschke was sentenced to five years of supervised release following yet another ricin-in-the-envelope plot, per Politico. Much like Richardson, he'd tried to use the letters to frame someone else — Paul Kevin Curtis. Curtis, of all bizarre things, was an Elvis impersonator, and Dutschke considered him his "rival." As part of a convoluted plot, Dutschke had sent letters not only to President Obama but also to Senator Roger Wicker and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland. In the end, Dutschke was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The jihadist and the fence-jumper

We can round out this list of would-be Barack Obama assassins with two very different entries. In 2012, the FBI arrested Bangladeshi Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who planned on blowing up the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. New York Daily News says he was "motivated by his belief that the U.S. was responsible for killing and raping Muslims worldwide." As the FBI reports, Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said, "Nafis came to the United States radicalized and bent on fighting jihad here in our homeland," and, "He sought to commit mass murder in downtown Manhattan in the name of al Qaeda." The New York Times says that Nafis had previously targeted President Obama before turning his attention to the Federal Reserve. He received the minimum sentence for his crimes — 30 years in prison — after his lawyer portrayed him in a sympathetic light to the court.

Finally, we've got Iraq war veteran Omar J. Gonzalez, who received a 17-month prison sentence after literally jumping the White House fence and storming the building carrying a 3.5-inch folding knife. As The Washington Post says, Gonzalez was "deeply remorseful" for his actions and "fully compliant" with authorities. Gonzalez was a "decorated Army cavalry scout" with a "spotless" criminal record before experiencing PTSD and illegally entering the White House. At the time of the intrusion, his Ford Bronco was found with "800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete marked 'Carnivore,' several tomahawks, and numerous knives."

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